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La Traviata

Union Avenue Opera, 2014

Mark Bretz – Ladue News

Story: A young man named Alfredo Germont is introduced to a popular, partying courtesan, Violetta Valery, and falls in love with her. Improbably, when Alfredo proposes that Violetta move from Paris to live with him in the countryside, she accepts. Fearful that she is dying from her fast living, she thinks that this might offer her a saving option. Alfredo’s father Giorgio, however, meets with Violetta and urges her to leave his son, as she is damaging the reputation not only of Alfredo but of his sister and father as well. Reluctantly, she agrees with the elder Germont and returns to Paris to attend a masked ball at the home of her friend, Flora, in the company of her previous lover, Baron Douphol.

Enraged, Alfredo confronts Violetta and the Baron at the ball, insulting her and challenging the Baron to a duel. When Alfredo survives the fight, his father tells him of the sacrifice Violetta had made. Alfredo rushes to be with her, hoping to reach his love in the final hours before her death.

Highlights: Union Avenue Opera kicks off its 20th season with an affecting production of Giuseppe Verdi’s operatic evergreen that was first performed in 1853. Powerful singing of Verdi’s lush music makes this UAO rendition of La Traviata an enriching and polished presentation.

Other Info: Making impressive UAO stage debuts are Puerto Rican soprano Zulimar Lopez-Hernandez in the role of Violetta, the title character of La Traviata (The Fallen Woman), and Italian-Canadian tenor Riccardo Iannello as Alfredo. Both display beautiful, rich, resonant voices that amply convey the beauty and majesty of Verdi’s music.

They are ably supported by Robert Garner, who last year was superb as Sharpless in UAO’s Madama Butterfly, as Giorgio Germont, and Debra Hillabrand as the high-living Flora. Garner’s deep, powerful baritone delivers some of La Traviata’s most compelling arias in singular fashion.

Debby Lennon does well as Violetta’s maid, Annina, while Mark Freiman is convincing as the indignant Baron Douphol. Others in the highly polished cast include Anthony Heinemann as Alfredo’s friend Gastone, Robert Reed as Doctor Grenvil, Phillip Bullock as Flora’s lover, the Marquis d’Obigny, Jon Garrett as Violetta’s servant Giuseppe and Philip Touchette as messenger.

Scott Schoonover’s conducting of the melodious score is robust and exhilarating throughout, receiving expert response from the UAO orchestra. Tim Ocel’s stage direction shrewdly utilizes side entrances to the compact stage as well as eliciting direct, focused performances by his cast.

There’s fine technical work, too, as exemplified by Teresa Doggett’s precise, upper-class period costumes and Kyra Bishop’s props. Patrick Huber’s versatile set design can improvise as a cemetery, a grand ballroom and even Violetta’s bedroom, bathed in lighting designer Maureen Berry’s soft illumination.

It’s all sung in Italian, but Katie Rush’s supertitles enable those unfamiliar with that language to follow the plot easily enough.

Schoonover and Union Avenue Opera have contributed substantially to the area’s cultural landscape in the past two decades. This sumptuous interpretation of La Traviata indicates that UAO is as polished and accomplished as ever.

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